Skip links

How to Advertise on Instagram: 13 Tips for Success

people working on computer

We’ve written several times before about how organic traffic on social media — particularly on Facebook — is nearly dead. While Instagram isn’t quite as hopeless, the organic traffic is nothing to write home about. And since Facebook owns Instagram, don’t expect the situation with organic traffic to improve. Instead, you’d be wise to throw some money at the situation. Let’s go over how to advertise on Instagram with 13 expert tips to improve performance, boost conversions, and grow your brand’s social media presence.

How to Advertise on Instagram

1. Split Test Different Types of Ads

Social media ads will rarely work on the first try, and this is to be expected. Why would they work on the first attempt? Testing is mandatory in order to determine what approach will resonate best with your audience.

Furthermore, you should be sure to test every aspect of your ads, including:

  • The caption.
  • The creative you use (images vs. videos vs. carousels).
  • Emojis.
  • The call-to-action.

Test every variable you can think of, and even try things you’re convinced aren’t going to work. You might be surprised.

While you can run one ad at time and try out new things over the course of several weeks, it might make more sense to run multiple ads simultaneously so that you can test and get results faster. However, be sure to only change one variable at a time, so you’re able to isolate any changes in your data that it’s associated with.

On a similar note, be sure you give every change enough time to actually take effect. True, the length of time it takes is partly related to how much money your ad spends. The more it spends in a period of time, the faster you can determine its results.

However, if you’re sticking to a modest budget to start — which we recommend — give ad edits several days to really kick in and get to work.

test on chalkboard

2. If You Use a Video, Include Closed Captions

People will often have to tap on an Instagram post to turn the sound on; and oftentimes, they won’t do that at all. In fact, some research says that a whopping 92% of people on mobile watch videos with the sound off.

If your video includes any kind of speaking or voiceover and you don’t want people to miss what you’re saying, then you need to include subtitles.

You might also consider incorporating some text overlay in the ad itself, whether it’s an image or a video. Don’t make it anything too lengthy. Nobody will read it. But text that highlights the main points might help your conversions.

3. Offer an Incentive to Encourage People to Click

This is a good rule in thumb for social media posts in general, but it’s even more crucial when it comes to advertising.

Think about it. You’re spending money to get a result, which means you should be even more determined to drive some sort of action, so that you can see a return on your ad spend.

The incentive is also important because people are especially hesitant when it comes to clicking on ads. They know that on the other side of that ad, you’re going to get them to try to do something, whether it’s purchase a product or sign up for an email list.

The bad news is that when not done properly, people’s eyes will fly right past an advertisement. The good news is that if you include an irresistible incentive, they won’t be able to ignore you.

4. Base Your Ad Off of a Post That Already Performed Well

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Scroll back through old posts to see which ones got the most engagement (likes and comments). You already know that your audience likes these specific posts especially, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of your advertising efforts.

Repurpose those posts into ads!

Does your audience love quote images? How about quick videos on loop? Funny GIFs? Whatever has already performed well for you in the past is a great place to start with your Instagram advertising efforts.

instagram likes

5. Make Them Look Like Regular Posts — Not Ads

Earlier, we mentioned that people don’t typically like ads. So, avoid getting on their bad side by running ads that look natural, organic, and authentic — just like the posts that appear on your regular feed.

In fact, if you wouldn’t post it on your regular feed, then maybe it shouldn’t be an ad.

Remember that people know when they’re being sold to. They’ll know if you’re just out to get them to do what you want. But if you use your ad as an opportunity to connect with them and form a genuine bond, then your ad is much likelier to perform better.

6. Whenever Possible, Use a Call-to-Action Button

If you’re trying to get people to take action, tell them exactly what you want them to do. No, literally.

Use a call-to-action button and tell them exactly what you want them to do.

Instagram advertising offers CTA buttons just like Facebook ads do, and they could very well cause a noticeable improvement in the performance and conversions of your ads.

7. Experiment With Different Budgeting Options

This kind of goes along with what we discussed earlier about split testing, but it deserves its own section.

Instagram (and Facebook) offers different ways to set your budget, and it’s worth playing around with these settings. For instance, let’s say you have a budget of $100. You can either set a daily budget and tell IG to spend $10 a day for 10 days, or you can give the ad a “lifetime budget” of $100.

In the case of the latter option, Instagram will spend the money how it best sees fit, based on the kinds of results the ad is getting. So, as an example, if the algorithm learns that your ad performs especially well in the morning time, it’ll spend more money in the morning.

If it performs best on the weekends, it’ll spend more of the budget on weekends.

When you set a daily budget, you might be limiting the opportunities for IG to learn and allocate money in the most efficient, powerful way possible.

Test, test, test!

calculator and budget

8. Get Specific With Your Targeting

The riches are in the niches. This is a good rule to live by. While having a huge audience sounds appealing, it’s not necessarily your best approach. Don’t try to target everyone. Everyone isn’t your customer.

When you’re setting your Instagram ads targeting, it’s best to get specific. Who are the people most likely to be interested in your brand? Who are you likeliest to convert?

When your targeting is too broad, a good bulk of your ad spend will end up going to people who don’t truly care about you. Save that cash for your target viewers.

9. Only Show the Ad to People Connected to WiFi

While it might seem like you’re limiting your audience, you do this for a very good reason.

If you’re running a video ad, and someone viewing your ad doesn’t have the best internet connection, the video could load slowly or worse, not at all. When you limit your ads to show only to people who are connected to Wifi, this shouldn’t be an issue, and they’ll have a better experience with your content.

10. Utilize Instagram Stories

Oh man, we love Instagram Stories. Stories are where it’s at. Nothing puts you front and center like these do.

Plus, think of the way people view Stories. They click on the first and then tap to the next, and the next, and the next. This will increase your visibility tremendously, because it’s harder for people to miss you — something that happens so easily when you’re only appearing in their news feed. So, you should always try setting your ads to display in IG Stories.

Bear in mind that the dimensions are unique, and you’ll want something that takes up as much of the screen as possible. So, you should take this into account when creating the ad.

11. *Really* Make the First Few Seconds Count

You have very little time to capture people’s attention. In fact, we almost want to say that you have no time at all. You should make this assumption when creating your ad, and act like the first few seconds of that video are a matter of life or death.

Don’t waste any precious time with a video that opens slowly. Viewers should immediately see some kind of movement and bright colors, meaning your video ad needs to start with action of some sort. Make it clear that they’re watching a video and not looking at an image, because videos tend to convert significantly better than images.

person recording video on smartphone

12. Create the Ad With Only One Goal in Mind

If your ad isn’t focused and your objectives are all over the place, it’s going to be too overwhelming to viewers and they won’t end up taking any action.

You don’t want this to feel like work for them. They shouldn’t have to try to understand what you’re saying — and they won’t. They’ll just scroll right past you, instead.

When you’re creating your ad, do it with only one goal in mind. That’s all. Are you aiming for straightforward brand awareness? Do you want post engagement, meaning likes and comments? Do you want people to click through the ad to arrive on a landing page?

Whatever the goal is, that should be the primary and sole purpose of the ad.

This also means that you should only have one call-to-action. Give your viewers one direction, one task. They don’t have the time or patience for much more than that.

13. Keep the Ad Consistent With Your Brand’s Aesthetics

Sometimes, brands will try so hard to create an ad that “pops” that it ends up looking nothing like anything else they’ve posted.

Yes, you want the act to jump out on the screen, but remember that it should still be consistent with your voice and  messaging. Some of these people are going to end up visiting your main page. If they see something that looks completely different from the ad they just experienced, they might be confused or turned off.

Learning how to advertise on Instagram does indeed take some time and money. But a learning curve is to be expected. Trial and error is normal. Ads that flop are part of the journey. Start testing out different kinds, set modest budgets to start, and see what Instagrammers react the most positively to.

You’ll be growing your brand using IG ads in no time.